The aim of this glossary is not to set in concrete words that are constantly changing and evolving, but rather to help students develop the critical tools and vocabulary with which to understand and talk about poetry.
Since poets themselves often disagree about the meaning and importance of terms such as free verse, rhythm, lyric, structure, and the prose poem, and since control of literary discourse is part of each new generation’s struggle for poetic ascendancy, it seems only reasonable and appropriate for the student to view all efforts to define critical terminology in a historical perspective and with a healthy degree of scepticism.
This mini-glossary reflects the continuing debate between traditional metrics and free verse, and between differing conceptions of the poet’s craft and role in society. A fuller and more lively debate may often be found in the notes on the poets and in the poetics section. In a number of instances, I have been less concerned to offer hard-andfast definitions than to alert readers to the controversy that surrounds certain critical terms.
The following list is by no means complete, but is intended to aid and provoke, to stimulate discussion and debate and send the curious reader on to more comprehensive sources. I have made use of and recommend highly A Glossary of Literary Terms (1957), by M. H. Abrams; the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics (1974), edited by Alex Preminger, Frank, J. Warnke, and O. B. Hardison, Jr; and The Poet’s Dictionary: A Handbook of Prosody and Poetic Devices (1989), by William Packard. G. G. ccent The emphasis, or stress, placed on a syllable, reflecting pitch, duration, and the pressures of grammar and syntax. While all syllables are accented or stressed in speech and in poetry, we tend to describe the less dominant as unstressed or unaccented syllables. In metrical verse, accented and unaccented (stressed and unstressed) syllables are easily identified. Robert Burns’s famous line “My love is like a red, red rose” might be described as an iambic tetrameter line, with four feet each consisting of one unaccented syllable followed by an accented one.
However, it can be argued that such a reading trivializes and effectively undercuts the emotional power of the poetic utterance, and that the sense of the line dictates a slightly different reading, which locates three strong stresses or accents in the second half of the line: “My love is like a red, red rose”. See also FEET and METER. 2 20 -Century Poetry & Poetics th alexandrine A twelve-syllable line, usually consisting of six iambic feet. alliteration A common poetic device that involves the repetition of the same sound or sounds in words or lines in close proximity.
Alliteration was most pronounced in Anglo-Saxon poems such as “The Wanderer” and “The Seafarer”, which Earle Birney imitates in his satire of Toronto, “Anglo-Saxon Street”: Dawndrizzle ended dampness steams from Blotching brick and blank plasterwaste Faded house patterns hoary and finicky unfold stuttering stick like a phonograph While such intense piling up of consonants was once a common mnemonic device (an aid to memory), changing literary fashions have, to a large extent, rendered such self-conscious exhibitions too blunt and obvious for the contemporary ear, except when used for comic purposes.
Exceptions include rap poetry and spoken word, both of which make extensive use of alliteration and rhyme. Nevertheless, the repetition, or rhyming, of vowels, consonants, and consonant clusters (nt, th, st, etcetera) remains a still a central component in constructing the soundscape of the poem, just as the repetition and variation of image and idea enrich the intellectual and sensory fabric. The most talented practitioners will be listening backwards and forwards as they compose, picking up and repeating both images and sounds that give the poem a rich and interlocking texture.
See ASSONANCE, CONSONANCE, RHYME, and PROSODY. allusion Personal, topical, historical, or literary references are common in poetry, though, to be successful, they require an audience with shared experience and values. Biblical or classical allusions, for example, or Canadian political allusions, might be totally unrecognizable to an Asian Muslim reader. Although readers soon tire of verbal exhibitionism, they still expect a degree of allusion to challenge them and to stimulate curiosity.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Junkman’s Obgligato” assumes the reader’s familiarity with both T. S. Eliot’s “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and W. B. Yeats’s “Lake Isle of Innisfree” for a full appreciation of the ironic counterpointing of down-and-out urban images and those of an idealized pastoral landscape. At the same time, the poem also overflows with topical and literary allusions from the junkyard of nineteenth- and twentieth-century European and American culture. ambiguity Words and the texts they inhabit are susceptible of a variety of interpetations.
While a word may denote one thing, usage and context often bring various connotations to bear on the meaning, or meanings, of that word in the poem. As the American poet Randall Jarrell explains in his essay “The Obscurity of the Poet” (in Poetry and the Age, 1953), what we speak of as literature ranges from Dante’s Divine Comedy, with its seven levels of meaning, to Reader’s Digest, which, Glossary of Poetic Terms 3 like pulp fiction and greeting-card verse, barely manages half a level of meaning. Sophisticated readers not only enjoy, but also demand a certain level of ambiguity, or mystery, in poems.
They find such ambiguity in Shakespeare, who loved puns, double-entendre, and various kinds of wordplay; they find it also in such early Moderns as T. S. Eliot, W. B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, and Wallace Stevens, who were influenced by seventeenth-century Metaphysical poets and French Symbolist poets, for both of whom the poem retains something of the quality of a riddle. As a result of declining audiences, a general trend towards a democratization of the arts, and the pressure of new kinds of psychological and political content, the pendulum of taste since mid-century swung towards less ambiguity.
While puns and worldplay still add to our sense of the fecundity and depth of poetic expression, contemporary poets admit that a rose may, at times, be intended only as a rose; and they tend to avoid the use of obscure and esoteric references. See Robert Graves’ Poetic Unreason (1925) and William Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930). anapest A metrical foot consisting of two unaccented syllables followed by an accented one: / ? ? ? /. See METRE. anaphora The rhetorical device of using the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive lines to obtain the effect of incantation.
See Ginsberg’s “Howl” and Cohen’s “You Have the Lovers” and “style”. apostrophe A literary device of “turning away”, usually to address a famous person or idea. In the classical Greek plays of Aeschylus and Euripides, the chorus would march across the stage in one direction chanting various stanzas, or strophes, and then reverse their motion in an anti-strophe, or verbal about-face. In twentiethcentury poetry, the apostrophe is just as likely to be used ironically, or for romantic or satirical purposes. rchetype When you sense that a literary character, situation, or idea has significance far beyond its specific, or particular, occasion in the poem, you are probably in the presence of an archetype. In an essay called “Blake’s Treatment of the Archetype” (English Institute Essays, 1950), Northrop Frye says: “By archetype I mean an element in a work of literature, whether a character, an image, a narrative formula, or an idea, which can be assimilated into a larger unifying pattern. ” Psychologist C. G.
Jung, in an essay called “The Problem of Types in Poetry” (1923), gives another dimension to the matter: “The primordial image or archetype is a figure, whether it be a daemon, man, or process, that repeats itself in the course of history wherever creative fantasy is freely manifested. Essentially, therefore, it is a mythological figure. If we subject these images to a closer examination, we discover them to be the formulated resultants of countless typical experiences of our ancestors. They are, as it were, the psychic residue of numberless experiences of the same type. 4 20 -Century Poetry & Poetics th Sibling rivalry, the betrayed or rejected lover, the innocent abroad, the rebel, the fool, the seasonal cycles of rebirth, fertility, and death, the enchanter or enchantress—all are common characters or situations in literature that can deepen our appreciation of a work of art. However, the search for universal symbols can be reductive in the reading of a poem; so, too, can excessive efforts to make a work symbolic or archetypal reduce a poem into a sociology text or an essay on psychology. ssonance Also called vocalic rhyme, assonance is the repetition or recurrence of vowel sounds within a line (or lines), a stanza, or the overall poem. Listen to the long vowels conjure expiration and death in Wilfred Owen’s “Greater Love”: “As theirs whom none now hear, / Now earth has stopped their piteous mouths that coughed. ” Assonance is most obvious among words beginning with an open, or initial, vowel (open / eyes / eat / autumn), but equally powerful as an internal rhyming device (tears / mean, thine / divine). allad A popular short narrative folk song, usually transmitted orally, and making use of various forms of shorthand, including truncated action, psychological and historical sketchiness, and a chorus or refrain for heightened impact and easy memorizing. A direct link can be drawn between such early folk songs as “Barbara Ellen” and “The Skye Boat Song”, country western music, and such contemporary ballads such as “Frankie and Johnny”, Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne”, and Stan Rogers’ “The Lockkeeper”. lank verse Unrhymed iambic pentameter verse has been a staple since it was introduced by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, around 1540 in his translations of Virgil’s Aeneid. Shakepeare and Christopher Marlowe both used blank verse in their plays; in poetry, Milton used it for Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, Wordsworth for The Prelude, and T. S. Eliot for The Waste Land. Eliot claimed in Poetry in the Eighteenth Century (1930) that the decasyllabic (or ten-syllable) line was “intractably poetic” yet had many of the capacities of prose.
As such, blank verse could be said to be a precursor of the prose poem, which seems more aligned with ordinary speech and the counting of syllables than with poetic meter. broken rhyme The dividing of a word between two lines to fulfill the requirements of rhyme: Madame had learned to waltz before the charge of falsehood had been laid . . . cadence When poet John Ciardi describes the poem as “a countermotion across a silence”, he comes close to defining cadence, which refers to the pattern of melody established from line to line that creates in the reader a sense of time slowed down
Glossary of Poetic Terms 5 and palpable. While cadence originally referred to regular traditional poetic measures, in which syllables and feet could be counted and identified, the term has come to be used more in relation to irregular patterning, where stress and accent are much looser and determined primarily by phrasing and syntax. Cadence is what Ezra Pound was referring to when he spoke of composing with the musical phrase instead of the metronome. Also worth reading is Dennis Lee’s essay “Cadence, Country, Silence”, in which he employs the term broadly and with greater cultural import.
See also MEASURE, MUSIC, RHYTHM, and SONG. caesura This term is used to refer to any substantial break or pause within the line, though it is most often found in lines of five or more feet. The caesura was a regular feature in Anglo-Saxon poetry, dividing the two alliterating units within the line, bluntly drawn in Earle Birney’s “Anglo-Saxon Street” or more subtly in Wilfred Owen’s “Arms and the Boy”: Let the boy try along this bayonet blade How cold steel is, and keen with hunger of blood; Blue with all malice, like a madman’s flash; And thinly drawn with famishing for flesh. anto While in the twentieth century the term is often used to mean, simply, a song or a ballad, the canto was originally a subdivision of epic or narrative, which provided both a simpler organizing principle for the creator of the long poem and a muchneeded respite for the singer during delivery. Ezra Pound draws on both meanings of the word when he calls his great epic-length series of meditations The Cantos. conceit When a METAPHOR or other FIGURE OF SPEECH is extended over many lines, it is called a conceit. oncreteness Concrete nouns referring to objects, such as lip, flint, hubcap, gunbarrel, wheel, smoke, sugar, and fingernail, seem capable of making their appeal through the senses. So, too, verbs, such as run, scream, chop, and lick. Concrete words activate the imagination and anchor poetry in the world of particulars. A gifted poet such as Samuel Johnson can use abstract words in such as way as to make them feel concrete, as in the line “stern famine guards the solitary coast”, where the abstract idea is given the quality of ternness, the action of guarding, and a spatial location. e. e. cummings concretized abstractions in much the same way: “love is more thicker than forget, / more thinner than recall / more seldom than a wave is wet / more frequent than to fail”. concrete poetry This name was first applied in the twentieth century to works that exploit the visual and auditory limits of poetry, ranging from contemporary “visual puns” back to a seventeenth-century “shape-poem” whose typography was de- 6 20 -Century Poetry & Poetics th ployed to create the image of an altar.
Since so much of the power of poetry is derived from sound—from rhythmical patterns, the residue of recurring vowels and consonants—it’s hardly surprising to find poets who break words into component syllables and letters, downplaying the intellectual dimension of poetry and emphasizing, instead, the psychic energy to be found in the acoustic dimension of language. See the notes on, and poems and poetics by, bpNichol, as well as An Anthology of Concrete Poetry (1967), edited by Emmett Williams, ed. consonance Consonance is the repetition of consonants in words or syllables with differing vowels: winter / water / went / waiter.
See, for example, Wilfred Owen’s “Strange Meeting”, which proceeds with a series of consonantal half rhymes: escaped / scooped, groined / groaned, moan / mourn. content The substance or subject matter of a poem, as opposed to its style or manner, is what we usually refer to when we speak of content. But content cannot, properly, be discussed apart from form. A poet may begin to write a poem, broadly speaking, about war, love, or beach-combing; however, as soon as his or her thought begins to take shape as poetic language, as form, it is so transformed by the process that it bears little or no relation to the original impulse.
Ideas or anecdotes that find their way into a poem are not the poem’s content, though they are certainly germaine to its overall impact. In fact, everything in the poem contributes to what we might call its content. Poets have reacted strongly to attempts to oversimplify their work or reduce it to a generalization or two. Archibald MacLeish argued that “A poem should not mean, but be. ” Most poets believe that the poem is its own meaning. Robert Creeley insisted that content and form are indivisible, and rejected “any descriptive act . . . which leaves the attention outside the poem”.
It’s probably most useful to stop asking what a poem means and begin to consider, as John Ciardi suggests in his book title, How Does A Poem Mean? If you begin to examine the formal and technical elements in a poem, the ways in which certain effects are achieved, you are more likely to arrive at a point of understanding and appreciation of the poem far beyond any simple statement about its content. See also DICTION, FORM, PROSODY. couplet The couplet—two lines of verse, usually rhymed—is one of the most common and useful verse forms in English and Chinese poetry.
The couplet’s brevity encourages a pithy, epigrammatic quality; its two-line split provides a fulcrum which lends itself to argumentative summary and generalization, as in Alexander Pope’s “Know then thyself, presume not God to scan; / The proper study of mankind is man”. Closed couplets such as Pope’s or Dryden’s, which use mostly iambic pentameter lines and complete their thought with the final end-rhyme, are also called heroic couplets, a form that dominated the eighteenth-century English neoclassical period. Glossary of Poetic Terms 7 The couplet has many uses, as a concentrating unit within the poem or as a separate stanza form.
Shakespeare used the couplet to conclude his sonnets forcefully. See also GHAZAL. dactyl A metrical foot consisting of an accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables: / ? ? ? /. See FOOT and METER. diction Word choice. The French poet Verlaine felt the need to remind us that poems are made of words, not ideas. This is useful to think about, since poems are often spoken and written of as if they were chunks of autobiography, representations of nature, or little treatises on how to conduct, or not to conduct, our lives. Words are magical. When nature, experience, or ideas—any of which may give rise to a poem—pass through the rucible of language, they are transformed, as surely as white light is split into a spectrum of colour when it passes through a prism. Words, similarly, slow and alter those non-linguistic elements that endeavour to use or pass through them; that’s one reason poems, stories, and other verbal texts give us the impression of time slowed down, of felt time. Words and the ideas they carry fly rather quickly through the brain, but when you speak or hear them you become aware of being immersed in another element, like a diver suddenly encountering water.
These considerations are central to postmodern poetics, which seeks to remind us that the poem is not a mirror of nature or a window through which we see the natural world, or so-called reality, but rather a verbal reality in its own right. When the word, or language in general, is foregrounded, poetry ceases to be simply a vehicle for conveying pictures of, and passing on information about, quotidian reality; it aspires, instead, to the condition of other arts such as music and painting, where representation and referentiality are not the only, or even the primary, concern.
In a sense, words are the poet’s paint, his or her primary medium. Coleridge once spoke of poetry as “the best words in the best order”. He was using the word best in the sense of most appropriate in a specific context, not with the idea that certain kinds of words are forbidden or inherently better or worse than others, though the choice would have its own moral significance. Words are dirty with meaning and can never be washed clean; we use them for ordinary discourse, to sell lawnmowers, to deliver sermons, and to make political speeches.
As Joseph Conrad once wrote, using the Archimedean metaphor: Give me the right word or phrase and I will move the world. M. H. Abrams reminds us that diction can be described as “abstract or concrete, Latinate or Anglo-Saxon, colloquial or formal, technical or common, literal or figurative”, to which we might add archaic, plain, elevated. See CONCRETENESS and WORD, and also Owen Barfield’s Poetic Diction (1952) and Winnifred Nowottny’s The Language Poets Use (1962). 8 20 -Century Poetry & Poetics th idactic While classical and neo-classical poetics argue that poetry should both teach and delight, in didactic poems the teaching function tends to override the imaginative. Such works, often dismissed as propaganda, recall Yeats’s distinction, that his argument with the world produced only rhetoric, whereas his argument with himself resulted in poetry. And yet all great works are overtly or covertly didactic, whether they teach us indirectly and subliminally through the senses (by way of imagery and patterns of sound) or by arguing transparently.
And, of course, all art, while it may not be a blatant call to arms, is an effort to persuade us to view the world differently. dimetre A line of verse consisting of two feet. dissonance An effect of harshness or discordance in a poem, often achieved by combining rhythmical irregularity and a jarring concentration of consonants. distich A COUPLET. dramatic monologue Unlike the soliloquy, in which a character on stage reveals his or her inner thoughts by “thinking aloud”, the dramatic monologue assumes and addresses an audience of one or more people.
In the process of addresing this audience, the speaker of the dramatic monologue manages to confess, or simply reveal, a character flaw, a dread deed, or an impending crisis. Robert Browning pioneered the form in poems such as “My Last Duchess”, “Andrea del Sarto”, and “Fra Lippo Lippi”, but it has been used by Tennyson in “Ulysses”, by Eliot in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”, and by many contemporary writers. duration The length of acoustic or phonetic phenomena such as syllables. According to linguists, the sounds we produce when we speak have pitch, loudness, quality, and duration.
Aside from grammatical and syntactical considerations, the pacing in, or the speed at which we read, a poem is largely determined by the length of time it takes to enunciate syllables, lines, and stanzas. Short vowels speed up the poem; long vowels slow it down. See also MEASURE, MUSIC, PROSODY, RHYTHM, and SONG. elegy Originally a specifically metered Greek or Roman form, the elegy has come to refer generally to a sustained meditation on mutability or a formal lament on the death of a specific person.
The conventional pastoral elegy included a rural setting, with shepherds and flowers (all nature mourning), an invocation to the muse, a procession, and a final consolation. Classics such as Milton’s “Lycidas”, Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard”, and Shelley’s “Adonais” are clearly the chief source and influence on such contemporary elegies as W. H. Auden’s “In Memory of W. B. Yeats”, Michael Ondaatje’s “Letters & Other Worlds”, Seamus Heaney’s “Requiem for the Croppies”, and so many of the poems of Adrienne Rich, Denise Levertov, Lorna Crozier and Michael Longley.
In fact, one Glossary of Poetic Terms 9 might safely say that the elegiac tone is dominant in English poetry from Beowulf to the present. enjambment A means of escaping the limitations and rigidity of the end-stopped line or closed couplet, enjambment occurs when a sentence or thought carries over from one line to the next. The enjambed line, with its greater freedom and flexibility, has served to focus a great deal of attention on the position of line-breaks in twentiethcentury poetry. See LINE-BREAKS and also Al Purdy’s poem “The Cariboo Horses”. pic While the epic, or heroic, poem such as Homer’s Iliad and Odsyssey or the AngloSaxon classic Beowulf—each with its elevated style, tribal or national struggles, invocations to the muse, occasional use of the supernatural, and cast of important, or exalted, figures—belongs to an earlier age, it has not lost its appeal to poets of later ages. From Dante’s Divine Comedy, Spenser’s F? rie Queene, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Dryden’s and Pope’s mock epic satires to such contemporary long poems as Pound’s The Cantos, W. C.
Williams’s Paterson, Atwood’s The Journals of Susanna Moodie, and Ondaatje’s The Collected Works of Billy the Kid, the long, or extended, poem has provided an alternative to the limited scope, self-directedness and, perhaps, too intense heat of the lyric. See LONG POEM and NARRATIVE. epigram A short, witty poem or statement, seldom more than four lines long, whose form dates back to Roman epigrammatist Martial. Alexander Pope’s poems are full of condensed witticisms that might be displayed as separate epigrams: “To err is human; to forgive, divine”. ye-rhyme An eye-rhyme features words or syllables that look alike but are pronounced differently: come / home; give / contrive. feminine ending While it may no longer be politically correct, this term is still used in criticism to refer to a line that ends with one or more unstressed syllables. Far from suggesting weakness or passivity, feminine endings are more flexible and colloquial, and their informality and irregularity have been especially useful in dramatic blank verse. feminine rhyme A two-syllable (or disyllabic) rhyme, usually a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable: witness / fitness. igurative language When language is heightened so that it moves beyond ordinary, or literal, usage, it is said to be figurative.
These figures, figures of speech, or tropes (“turns”), as they are sometimes called, include simile, metaphor, personification, hyperbole, paradox, and pun. An extended figure of speech is called a CONCEIT. 10 20 -Century Poetry & Poetics th figure A group of words that evoke the senses by transcending ordinary usage. Consider, for example, Gloucester’s comment in Richard III: “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by the sun of York”. oot In A Poet’s Dictionary: Handbook of Prosody and Poetic Devices (1989), William Packard provides an interesting account of the origin of the metrical foot: When the Greeks described poetry as “numbers”, they were alluding to certain conspicuous elements of verse that could be counted off: “feet” were strong dance steps that could be measured out in separate beats of a choral ode or strophe or refrain. These “feet” could then be scanned for repeating patterns of syllable quantities, either long or short, within strophes and antistrophes of a chorus.
Greek metrics, then, did not derive from accent or stress but rather from the elongation required in the pronunciation of certain vowels and syllable lengths. Instead of the quantitative designation of long and short syllables, we now use the terms stressed and unstressed, or accented and unaccented to describe the components of the poetic foot, which is essentially a group of two or more syllables that form a metrical unit in a line of verse. The most common feet are the iambic (/ ? ? /), an unstressed followed by a stressed syllable (delight); the trochaic (/ ? /), a stressed followed by an unstressed syllable (action); the anapestic (/ ? ? ? /), two unstressed syllables followed by a stressed one (interrupt); the dactylic (/ ? ? ? /), a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed ones (comforting); and the spondaic (/ ? ? /), two stressed syllables (handbook). Other feet include the pyrrhic (/ ? ? /), one or more unstressed syllables; the amphibrachic (/ ? ? ? /), one unstressed, one stressed, one unstressed; the bacchic (/ ? ? ? /), one unstressed followed by two stressed; and the chorimabic (/ ? ? ? /), a stressed, two unstressed, and a stressed. See METER. form Form in poetry is no less intriguing and no less difficult to define and describe than form in the other arts. We can easily identify obvious elements of form, such as rhyme schemes, metrical patterns, stanza-lengths, and traditional modes like the sonnet and sestina; but the intricacies of language, timing, syntax, counterpoint, verbal play—those elements that contribute to the formal beauty and power of a poem—require some training and considerable attention.
However, in an essay called “Admiration of Form: Reflections on Poetry and the Novel” (Brick / 34), poet and critic C. K. Williams offers some useful thoughts, reminding us that, among other things, form and content are inextricably allied: The important thing about form, though, is its artificiality. In English poetry, the historically dominant iambic foot is closely related to the actual movement of the voice in our language between stressed and unstressed syllables, but the regularity of the iambic line, and the five beats of the pentameter, for instance, are purely conventional.
In irregular, or “free”, verse, where the Glossary of Poetic Terms 11 cadences are not regular, and not counted, it is what Galway Kinnell has called the “rhythmic surge”, which defies and controls the movement of language across its grid of artifice; the line in free verse becomes a much more defining factor of formal organization than in more arithmetical versetraditions.
The crucial thing about form is that its necessities, though they are conventions, precede in importance the expressive or analytical demands of the work. Although a poem may to a greater or less degree seem to be driven by its content, in fact all the decisions a poet makes about a work finally have to be made in reference to the conventions which have been accepted as defining the formal nature of that work. If a ompelling experience is conveyed in a verse drama, if an interesting philosophical speculation occurs in a lyric poem, if a poem involves itself in an intricate and apparently entirely engrossing narrative adventure, these are secondary, although simultaneous with, the formal commitments of the work, and they must be embodied within the terms of those commitments, although in the end these almost playful divisions of an experienitial continuum, whether in the structures of a musical mode, or the pulse and surge of a poetic line, will mysteriously serve to intensify the emotion and the meaning which the work evokes. I should mention, perhaps, that the dour and puritanical and ferociously self-serving “new formalism” has nothing to do with the notion of form I am elaborating here: the new formalism is rather a kind of conceptual primitivism which seems to gather most of its propulsive force from a distorted and jealous vision of the literary marketplace; it calls for a return to the good old safe and easily accounted-for systems of verse, with counted meters, rhyme, and so forth.
All despite the generation over the last few centuries, from Smart to Blake through Whitman and countless others, of an enormous amount of significant poetry in non-traditional forms; and despite the fact that many verse-systems in the world require neither rhyme nor strictly counted meter, and despite the practice of many modern poets, who have been quite content to use whatever verse-form fitted the poem they were composing. One would not want to sacrifice either Rilke’s “Duino Elegies” or Lowell’s “Life Studies”, just to mention two poets who worked in both systems. In his essay “Rebellion and Art” (in The Rebel, 1956), Albert Camus argues that “A work in which the content overflows the form, or in which form drowns the content, only bespeaks an unconvinced and unconvincing unity. . . . Great style is invisible stylization, or rather stylization incarnate. ” See PROSODY, STRUCTURE, and STYLE, and also Denise Levertov’s “Notes on Organic Form” in the Poetics section. free verse Poetry written with a persistently irregular meter (which is not to say without rhythm) and often in irregular line-lengths.
The King James translations of 12 20 -Century Poetry & Poetics th the Psalms and Song of Songs are often held up as models of how dynamic nonmetrical poetry can be. Ezra Pound advised composing with the rhythms of the speaking-voice sounding in your ear, rather than the regular beat of the metronome; Robert Frost insisted that writing free verse was like playing tennis without a net; and T. S. Eliot claimed that no verse is free for the poet who wants to do a good job.
All three were concerned to emphasize that, whether regular or irregular, the music of poetry bears close scrutiny, for it accounts for much of our pleasure as readers and, far from being incidental or decorative, is fundamental to our total experience of the poem. See LINES-BREAKS, METER, MUSIC, RHYTHM, PROSODY, and SONG. ghazal A Middle Eastern lyric, most commonly associated with the fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafiz. The ghazal consists of five to twelve closed couplets, often using the same rhyme.
These seemingly disconnected couplets about love and wine are held together not by a narrative or rhetorical thread, but by a heightened tone or emotional intensity. Not surprisingly, the apparently random or non-rational structuring of the ghazal has proven attractive to twentieth-century poets as diverse as as John Thompson (Stilt Jack), Phyllis Webb (Water & Light), and Adrienne Rich. hexameter A line of verse consisting of six feet. hyperbole A figure of speech that involves extremes of exaggeration: big as a house, dumb as a doornail. ambic pentameter A line consisting of five iambic feet. Iambic pentameter is considered the poetic rhythm most basic to English speech. See FOOT and METER. image Ezra Pound described the image as “that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time”. Other poets have spoken of images as concentrations of linguistic energy directed at the senses. The image is a controversial term, which has often been used to mean, simply, a verbal picture; however, the poetic image may also conjure things, events, and people in our minds by appealing to senses other than sight.
Images are so central to language that, in the line a brown cow leapt over the fence, which constitutes a composite image, we also find four discrete images: a cow, a fence, the act of leaping, and brownness. Imagery, along with prosody, is one of the two central ingredients of poetry; and its evocative power cannot be divorced from the texture of sounds through which it is delivered. Specific images seem more likely to stimulate the senses than images that are generic (tree, animal, machine).
The difference between a line such as “I think that I shall never see / A poem as lovely as a tree” and the following—“Don’t hang your bones from the branch / of that gnarled oak, exuding elegies. / The chihuahua’s waiting in the Daimler”—has as much to do with diction and specificity of image as with the difference between metrical and non-metrical verse. Glossary of Poetic Terms 13 Imagism A poetic movement in England and the US between 1909 and 1917, which reacted against the discursiveness, sentimentality, and philosophizing of late nineteenth-century poetry by trying to focus on the single image.